Hockey stars roll back years

THEY are probably getting to the age where they should consider using their hockey sticks as aids to walking rather than for their intended purpose.

But some of Scotland’s hockey stars of yesteryear are throwing themselves back into the heat of international competition as Edinburgh prepares to host the Home Countries Veterans’ Tournament for the first time.

And the competition, to be played at the National Hockey Academy at Peffermill on September 6 and 7, will see stars such as Olympic gold medallists Richard Leman, Sean Kerly and Ian Taylor arrive in the Capital.

Although the tournament will be open only to those aged 40 and over, former Scotland goalkeeper Stuart Smith, chairman of the organising committee, insisted the players will still be taking games as seriously as they did in their prime.

England have won all three Veterans’ Tournaments so far and with players of the calibre of Leman, Kerly and Taylor, they’ll be favourites to do so once again. But Smith believes the Scots, Welsh and Irish will be able to push them all the way this year with the concept of the tournament having finally caught the imagination of older players.

He said: "Veterans hockey in Scotland has been pretty fragmented but in England they’ve been playing divisional hockey at this level for years.

"An invitational Scottish team always went down to their tournament as did a side from Wales and, thanks to the vision of a guy called Mike Booth of the English Hockey Association, who sadly died last year, the inaugural Home Countries Tournament took place in Cardiff in 2000.

"Because England already had the set-up in place they’ve proved far superior although the gap has narrowed to the point where I believe it will be a very close call this year."

Smith admitted it has been a bit of a struggle to pull together a top-class Scottish side in the past but the tournament has now been accepted to the point where a host of former internationalists are desperate to play.

He said: "England have such competition that in the past they’ve held trial matches, the probables against the possibles, ahead of the tournament but this year we’re going to have the likes of Tom and Donny Hay (no relation), Mike Yel lowlees, Steve Springthorpe, Dougie Potter, Bruce Cuthill, Neil Menzies, Andrew Scoular and myself playing."

Although each player has to pay for his own travel and accommodation - a cut-price deal has been done with Apex Hotels in the Grassmarket - the tournament will still cost some 4000 to stage.

Smith said: "The hockey community is, as always, gathering round with Norrie Springford of Apex Hotels helping with accommodation, while we are selling advertising for a programme.

"But it is still an expensive business to put on such a tournament and any offers of sponsorship will be gladly welcomed."

And if the thought of playing hockey at such an age appears daunting, an over 50s "Super Vets" tournament will run in conjunction with the main event while an over 60s Scottish team took part in last year’s European Championships.

Smith said: "A couple of the lads have also taken part in the last two Veterans World Cups held in Holland and Malaysia so the long-term plan, hopefully, will be to see Scottish veterans teams taking part in both the European and World Cups on a regular basis."